Theodore R. Griffiths
“The first thing I would say is I had a problem with the fact that it took so long.” That sentiment by Dr. Chuck Ward, Chair of the Millersville University Philosophy Department, is a shared feeling throughout campus by faculty and students alike now that the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) has reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
It has been 19 months since their contract ran out on June 30th, 2011, and APSCUF has been negotiating with PASSHE for a new deal ever since. While many other state unions had contracts in place only months after their past contract expired, PASSHE was reluctant to budge in the initial contract negotiations leading to APSCUF threatening a strike throughout the PA state school system.
Ward made it clear that APSCUF negotiators expressed frustration with PASSHE and their lack of urgency to get a deal done until this past fall, conveniently when APSCUF threatened to strike. He was also unsure of the intentions of PASSHE throughout the deal saying, “Given that where we ended up was just the pattern that was established in the summer of 2011, it’s unclear why it needed to take so long.”
This new contract for APSCUF is already two years old, and it began when the old one ended. All of the details have not been released, but as of now it is known that it contains a salary freeze for 2011-2012, a 1% raise in both 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, and a 2% raise in 2014-2015. The concessions made by APSCUF are also similar to the other state union contracts.
The first of the two major concessions is the elimination of course developmental compensation for distance education, which was the only incentive for teachers to participate in the voluntary distance education programs. That was less problematic to Ward than the second major concession, which states that hired faculty of the future cannot allow their spouse or domestic partner to use the faculty insurance plan as their primary coverage if they can get insurance through their own employer.
In the past, adding a spouse or partner to a faculty members insurance meant raising their premium, which was then paid for by that faculty member. Ward explained that it was typically done when someones spouse or partner could get better insurance coverage from the faculty plan than they could from their own employer. Ward said of the the new insurance coverage, “I can understand why we were in a position where we had to give that up, but I do think it’s a significant concession.”
This new contract and these new concessions bring up an important question: will Millersville University and other PA state schools still be able to attract the best teachers from across the country?
“The things that they were asking for earlier on we felt would be pretty severely damaging to that effort,” said Ward of the initial deal proposed by PASSHE. He is now confident that this new deal is good for faculty, and that Millersville University should still be able to attract quality educators.
Prospective and current students should also know that this is the first time class size will be included in the collective bargaining agreement as an issue subject to curriculum committee recommendations, so the inflation of class sizes proposed by PASSHE will not affect Millersville University or the other PA state universities.
According to Ward, negotiations are finished and clarification of language in the new contract is the only obstacle left before the vote to ratify said contract. The vote will take place during the second week of March on the campus of each PA state school.
The current struggle between APSCUF and PASSHE is over, but this new contract only runs through the next two years, opening the door for a new dispute sooner rather than later.
Ward expressed frustration over this point and said, “We’re basically a little more than halfway through the second year of a four year contract already, and it hasn’t even been ratified yet. We’re worried about the fact that we’re going to have to start this process again pretty darn soon.”
If a silver lining exists it is that stability remains at Millersville University for the next two years, allowing faculty and students to focus on education rather than contracts. “All of us just really want to be paying attention to that mission,” said Ward. That mission is the business of education, a mission that at least for the next two years will not be overshadowed by strike rumors and contract negotiations.